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Celebrating Diverse Voices Town Hall: Stephen Henderson and Rhonda Walker

On May 18, Stephen Henderson, contributor for One Detroit at DPTV, and host at WDET 101.9 FM, and Rhonda Walker, anchor at WDIV-TV 4, NBC, joined the Chamber’s Chief Operating Officer, Tammy Carnrike for a discussion around the biggest challenges the city of Detroit faces in improving equity and creating opportunities for Detroiters.

Detroit’s Revitalization

As of last week, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy hit a huge milestone, breaking ground on the last piece of the East River Walk – a dramatic transformation that has been a large part of Detroit’s resurgence. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the city has seen some setback in its revitalization, but the momentum is still going.

“I think we’ve just been in this perpetual revitalization, where we kind of see this renaissance happening, and maybe we see a setback and then we’re back on it again,” said Walker. “There’s an increased level of support and investment that I’ve been witnessing in the city of Detroit…and I only see that continuing to grow.”

Detroit Future City recently released the State of Economic Equity in Detroit report, which highlights changes that have taken place in Detroit in the last 10 years. While there has been substantial growth in the last decade, the reality is that significant economic inequities persist in the city.

“There are all kinds of things that are different and great about Detroit, but there are lots of parts of the city, and lots of people who aren’t experiencing it,” said Henderson. “I have always thought that the challenge, the pivot point for all of that is city government. City government is supposed to get people excited about investing in and opening up opportunities in Detroit.”

Opportunities for Detroiters

One key challenge in Detroit’s revitalization has been to better engage the communities and neighborhoods throughout the city.

“There has been a lot of institutional attention, especially on the idea that you’ve got to make this momentum that is happening in Downtown, Midtown, and on the Riverfront, and make it matter in other places,” said Henderson. “There are a lot of programs that have come up…but there’s a lag in terms of outcome and also still a disconnect in a lot of communities.”

For the city of Detroit, the issue is figuring out how to make things that are possible actually available to the people who live there.

“I believe the opportunity is there, a lot of opportunity is there, a lot of jobs are there, but actually getting Detroiters to take advantage of these opportunities has sometimes been a challenge,” said Walker. “And I don’t say we blame the residents, but we need to understand them and understand where they’re coming from, understand the years of challenge and despair just to see that there’s new opportunity.”

Creating Change in Detroit

As journalists who have committed to serving the Detroit community through giving back and uplifting others, both Walker and Henderson have their own foundations to empower change within the community.

Walker started the Rhonda Walker Foundation that has been empowering inner-city teens in Detroit for over 18 years. The Rhonda Walker Foundation provides support for inner-city teen girls through programs around college prep, personal development, career development, health and wellness, community outreach, and cultural awareness.

“It’s so important because I believe that any child in the city of Detroit can accomplish anything that their counterpart child in the suburbs with a lot more opportunity, a lot more resources, a lot more support, and maybe better schools and better exposure can,” said Walker. “And so for me, my goal, is how do I take these kids that are growing up in the inner city and give them as much as I can.”

Meanwhile, Henderson made an effort to revitalize his childhood home and Detroit neighborhood through the Tuxedo Project, a literary and community arts center that started in the home his family grew up in. Henderson took a disinvested and depopulate neighborhood and brought it back to life through the literary center which provides clubs, writing workshops, classes, and more.

“We really focused on community change and building community infrastructure,” said Henderson. “And then we were really focused on the idea of opportunity that people need more to be able to get to a better place.”

The Value of Diversity in News

“Diversity is cool. Who wants to be around someone who is exactly the same age and looks exactly like them? I think as journalists we are privileged because our jobs require us to have interactions and discussions and interviews with people of all walks of life,” said Walker.

“You cannot tell the story of a city like Detroit without reflecting the population of that city in your newsroom,” said Henderson.